“If you want something done, ask a busy person” – Benjamin Franklin
Whenever I hear this, I just want to shake my head. Why does the busy person get punished with more work?
Or did Franklin think that busy person was a man with an even busier wife to support him like he had? Like when Franklin decided to work overseas, his kick-butt wife, Deborah Read, ran his businesses, maintained the household, and took care of their two children. And he wasn’t gone for a few weeks, we’re talking five years or so at a time.
And we have WAY more communication channels that blast information 24/7 requiring more to process in a vastly shorter amount of time. Franklin could never have dreamed of this when he created the post office, which was considered a huge innovation for communicating in his day.
Regardless of the intent behind the quote, it seems to be the philosophy of many organizations to this day. Forgetting that everyone has an actual breaking point; that you can’t just keep adding on more and more and expect the same high-quality results.
But this post isn’t about the merits of giving busy people more stuff to do or not. And it isn’t about the invisible work women do (which is a lot).
If you’re that busy person (and you don’t have a busier wife supporting you… or you are that wife) and you feel like you aren’t making progress, you’re being pulled in multiple directions and when you do have some time you aren’t even sure where to begin, I’ve got some tools for you.
Below is a 5-step process that will shift your work life from drowning to getting the important stuff done that will give you meaningful progress.
1. Shift Your Mindset from Scarcity to Abundance
If you start your day off worrying that you won’t have enough time in the day to get it all done, trying to play Tetris with your calendar to fit in more, then you’ve got the scarcity mindset.
If you view time from a perspective of scarcity, then that is exactly how time will be for you, it’s a self-fulling prophecy. This is because you are using extra energy to worry and stress, your brain with its confirmation bias will look for evidence to support that belief.
Stop trying to squeeze every last “productive” second out of every minute. You are only succeeding at driving yourself, and possibly others around you nuts. The constant drive to get more done in the same amount of time is exhausting.
Instead, start by actively trying to do less each day. Stop acting like the next day will suddenly have more time available than the previous day.
Shift your mindset from scarcity: “I don’t have enough time,” to abundance: “I have the time I need to do what’s important today.” The abundance mindset allows you to shift your energy from being used to worrying to being focused on areas that are useful, which will build positive momentum.
Start by checking in with yourself. What story are you telling yourself about the day? What mindset do you choose?
If you want to learn more on how to make the mindset shift to abundance, go here.
2. Get Your Power Back
If you don’t feel like you have control of how you spend your day, then you have given your power away.
You have the power of choice regardless of how you might have convinced yourself you don’t. You may not like the repercussions of the choices, but the reality is, how you live your life is entirely up to you.
Take ownership of your decisions. And if you aren’t deciding, then you are leaving it up for others to decide for you. Take back your power of choice.
If you are someone that is trying to take more control than is necessary, your work is to know what you can control and let go of the rest.
Some questions to ask yourself:
- Where are you giving your power away?
- Are you complaining and not taking action?
- What are you trying to control that isn’t yours?
- Are you accepting more responsibility than is yours to carry?
“If everything is important, then nothing is.” ― Patrick Lencioni.
Does this sound like you; you have a seemingly never-ending to-do list and each day you try to get as much done off that list, working long hours, but more just gets added on and you feel like you just can’t get a break.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: your work will NEVER get all done. Sure, you’ll get a project done, but the list of to-dos will be ever-changing. And I want to be clear: you won’t get it all done no matter how many hours you work. That is the nature of work today.
Instead, get comfortable with it and know how to prioritize.
Do you know your priorities? Do you know what’s important? Do you let the urgent overrule the important?
To make better decisions of what to do in the time that you have, you must know what’s important and then prioritize your activity in the day to reflect it.
We all get urgent requests; someone else’s emergency is suddenly your emergency. Next thing you know your priorities are overruled as you get caught up in some other person’s urgent energy.
If you are clear on your priorities and the rank of these priorities (sure, it might change from day to day), then you’ll know how to make better decisions and not get sidetracked in the chaos of busyness.
4. Create Boundaries
If you’re having a hard time keeping your priorities, then you also need to set some boundaries, with yourself and others. Then (and this is the hard part), you’ll need to enforce those boundaries, because no one else will.
Think about what typically kidnaps your day. Is it a particular person? Client? Email? Think back on the last few days, weeks, months. What has thrown you off track?
When you figure out what you allow to hijack you, now you can create a boundary.
For example, do you get sucked in by email all day? Turn off notifications and allow yourself a set time of the day to check them, so you have focused time to do your important tasks. This also sets expectations with others of how quickly (or not) they can expect you to get back to them. Train yourself to stop getting so distracted. Here are some tips if you need help controlling your email.
If your issue is not being able to say no, then stay tuned for my post on boundaries coming soon.
5. Nightly 5-Min Plan
Priorities shift, sometimes daily. To stay on top of that and keep your priorities as the key focus (not someone else’s) you need a plan. A quick, short, easy to create plan.
At the end of each day (that can mean at the end of your workday or before you go to bed at night) spend 5 mins (no more) on identifying your top priorities for the next day. Look at your calendar to review what appointments you have and the available time you have to get other work done. Then select 1 – 3 absolutely important, critical things you must have done the next day.
Do NOT create a to-do list. If you don’t already have a master to-do list, create one somewhere else so you can dump all the stuff in your head into it (you need to have it all out of your head and in one place).
The purpose of the 5-min plan is to keep you focused and build positive momentum. So it must be absolutely, attainable. Identify what is critical to do, but no more. If you are not able to get the items on your 5-min plan done consistently then you’re putting too much on it and not creating boundaries, or there is a bigger issue that needs to be identified and corrected.
The next day, do the hardest thing first; the thing you’re dreading, or believe will take the most energy. By getting it done first, you will have created positive momentum the rest of the day. And you won’t waste any energy thinking about, dreading, or ruminating over needing to get it done during the day. Besides the longer you put it off, the more likely that your day will get hijacked by some other urgent (and possibly important) priority.
If you want lots of ideas on how to create a full-fledged system to keep yourself organized at work, check out Getting Things Done by David Allen.
If you want a partner to help you shift your mindset, gain your power back, and know what’s important, I’m here for you.